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famous violinists who have their thumb right under the neck


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Would it be possible to widen the scope of what you might be asking?

This is an area of study ( thumb positioning ) that is both confusing and a bit frustrating. Let me address your question first, with another question. "Right under the neck," suggests that the pad of the thumb is located directly opposite the center of the fingerboard. Would this be correct?

Please allow me to offer a few scenarios as to thumb location. But first, let me suggest that many of us have stuck with a technique or method that was first taught to us, and gradually developed musically. "If it ain't broke," is an expression that holds true for many players. For most teachers, unless a technique is disabling in the future, it is not fixing though the topic is mentioned or bridged into a modified technique that can free up the hand.

With regards to future player's abilities, there are some physical attributes that are helpful. But in my experience, the desire to play or participate is far greater in indicator of improvement and "stick with it- ness." Eventually, though, we most likely have to compensate for hand shape, flexibility and strength. It is something that can be adapted as a yoga instructor once noted, that my hands were very flexible. No one mistakes me for a practioner of yoga.

Upper strings and lower string players have different thumb positioning. Fretted string players also have different positions. The "Keith Richards" school allows us to reach for D- Db- D#s and A- Ab- A#s with the thumb in first position.

There are exceptional teachers and students who can offer intuitive instruction on thumb position in a very structured manner. I respect that approach and offer that to some students who are likely to thrive with that style of instruction. But in my crash- burn- fire extinguisher approach in classrooms, it is better to observe and adapt. Even starting new students on bowed instruments, it is difficult to make any assumptions unless they already participate in sports or play instruments.

I will say that there were more kids with Playstation "claw" in the past but, now younger kids are developing Switch "claw" in higher numbers. With incredible thumb strength and tension, it is difficult to get their hands to relax. Also very surprising how there are many issues with the right hands with these with many mini- gamers.

SO there are professional upper string players who occasionally place their thumb under the neck, but I can not think of one who uses the position as the default. Granted, I have not seen everyone on Utube, but I have sat in on hundreds of masterclasses. On the violin, it is virtually impossible to stay in the first position for a great duration of time depending on the hold at the shoulder. On longer violas, the left hand might support the additional weight, which can lead to stress and stiffness in the left hand. On lower strings, the center can be the default starting out, to develop finger strength and accuracy, but some players drift to various parts of the radius.

In addition, there are varieties of ways to hold the instrument using the thumb, from the tip, the various parts of the pad, the 1st joint, all the way down into the "v." Some have thumbs with greater deflection outward and they rest the neck at the first joint of the thumb, at the bottom as you mention, floating across the middle and ring fingers. Several of my female friends do this at times. They play with dead- on intonation. If the sonics were good enough, I would try it too. They also have long fingers with narrower hands, while I have a wide hand with shorter fingers. Thumb opposite middle, I understand... up further, my hand get weaker and slows down.

In the studio, depending on the microphone placement, some instruments "like" ( actually the people in the control booth ) to be played in different positions as they might sound the best, given the piece of music. If the music is not as complex, and the sound is mostly texture, different thumb positions can create or reduce resonances. Those differences might or can be heard in a controlled environment, but generally it is mostly done as an artful experiment. Also the change in tone/ resonance is most audible on very expressive or sensitive ones that generally more higher-end.  

Having learned some guitar and cello, adapting is not difficult to get right under the neck, but can not see playing that way for any duration of time. Though I can play with shoulder rests ( and do on very seriously difficult music, ) most of my playing is without. I do have to constantly hold up the instrument except when shifting greater lengths down the neck. Up the neck is not so much an issue. Whether it is a pinched hold or at the bottom of the neck, the thumb position is always changing. And it has been a long slog in developing. I chose to play period instruments and things changed. All my students use some sort of shoulder rest, except for two who choose to not use chinrests ( pre-teen, teen experimentation. ) due to some discomfort along the jaw line.  

There must be examples of playing available, however at this crazy time, this question is not getting as many looks. Other sites might have more information. I need this adjustment in the tool chests. I am still weak on 10ths and wrapping the left arm around and sliding the thumb under, allows me to reach these intervals in 1st position. In college, not moving the thumb, the tenths were played in the upper positions.

 

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Thank you GoPractice for your comprehensive post.

Apologies, I don't think I was very clear in describing what I was looking for.

Basically it was a request for famous violinists who play with "Thumb Position II: The Thumb Under The Neck" as described in the following web page:

https://murphymusicacademy.org/violin-101-lesson1

And this was just to satisfy my curiosity, as I have seen plenty of YouTube videos of famous violinists who play with "Thumb Position I: The Low Side-Thumb" and also "Thumb Position III: The High-Thumb or “Old School” Position", but not many with "Thumb Position II: The Thumb Under The Neck"

I know these are perhaps not conventional names for the thumb positions, but there are photos on that web page, which hopefully reduces the amount of misunderstanding.

However, I now realize my initial request mightn't be an easy one, because I have been searching through YouTube and sometimes I think I've found someone who is playing with their thumb right under the neck as their default position...but then the camera angle changes and then I see that I was wrong, or they change the position of their thumb according to the needs of the music.

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Anne Sophie Mutter's thumb position is not necessarily affixed to under the neck.  If you watch her recordings, her thumb position is quite versatile and she places it where she needs for what she is doing at the moment.

What is the real question here?  What is your goal for asking?  Are you trying to justify your own thumb position(s)? Or are you attempting something new because your current technique is not working?  Perhaps the answer to these questions may help the post gain some momentum? 

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I was instructed to play with a "low-side thumb" in first position and a "higher-side thumb in 3rd position" and allowed to "fly-free" above that. I was young and smaller in those years, however I have tended to keep playing those ways. But sometimes I vary it, especially as increasing age continues to limit what my body can endure.

I have noticed that Perlman  plays with his thumb a bit higher, perhaps to compensate for his large hand and fingers. I played under a concertmaster for 16 years who definitely played with her thumb under the neck and had a lovely vibrato. She had small hands.

A very good teacher would work with students to optimize all things about their violin-playing posture including all things about their left and right hands, violin position, chinrest, shoulder rest, etc. Such a teacher would notice everything that was going on, even muscle strain under the skin, and notice those things right away. Poorer teachers often try to mold their students in their own image no matter how much it ill-fits some students. At least, that is my opinion.

If you are an adult trying to work this out on your own, all you can do is experiment until you find what works best for you. The teacher route can be much more efficient - but it has to be the right non-parochial teacher. I think the path you are taking by using all possible means to observe what others do is admirable, but let your own body parts instruct you!

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Cathode Ray: I looked at some Hadelich videos, yes sometimes his thumb is right under the neck but I did notice it also on the side (the "low side thumb position")

Violinewb: I take your point about Mutter's thumb position, and in fact I think it is quite similar to Hadelich's.

                   The reason I was interested to see any videos of the "thumb-under" position was that I was actually doubting whether it really exists. I suspected that perhaps there were really only 2 positions, high and low thumb, but not "thumb under", and the thumb-under was only a temporary thing for particular passages.

However, having said that....I've finally found a genuine, thumb-under violinist!!!! His name is Filip Pogady, and if you look at his video from about 6:00 to 6:45, there is no mistaking, he really does play that way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsKju_W1K0U&t=190s

Andrew Victor: thanks for your input. That's interesting about your concert master, especially as I imagined that if anyone did actually play with their thumb under the neck then most probably they would have small hands, because that position does seem to increase the reach of the hand. Although the strange thing is if you watch a bit of that video I mentioned above you'll see that Pagody does not have small hands at all, and yet he still favors that thumb-under position.

I totally agree with you about a non-parochial teacher, just haven't found one yet.  But I don't really mind because I really do like trying different techniques and observing the differences. And we are lucky because there are so many variations on violin/viola technique to experiment with....bow holds, left hand thumb positions, vibratos, instrument positions, shoulder rests or not...etc. etc.

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Hadelich because he plays w/o shoulder rest so must support the instrument with the left hand. W/o shoulder rest if the thumb is not under the neck the fiddle falls, unless you scrunch the chin down?

Hence many older gen. players who played restless put the thumb under the neck. Milstein has a nice hand position. One of the best of the older gen was Oscar Shumsky, as good as many of the more famous ones: I think the thumb is under the neck in the image at

? (youtube embed failing, it was the photo on "Oscar Shumsky plays Glazunov's Grand Adagio")

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John_London and Crazy Jane: totally agree, the violin is supported by the left hand (and the collarbone of course). 

What I noticed when looking at YT videos of famous rest-less violinists was that most of them seemed to be using a combination of the thumb AND the base of the index finger to support the violin, rather than ONLY the thumb

However, I found this old video of Yehudi Menuhin demonstrating how to hold a glass violin (!!!) without a shoulder rest, and in it he is definitely only using the thumb by itself - it is not in combination with the base of his index finger. You can see this at 4:45 in the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvV4A6lz-0w

 

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

...

What I noticed when looking at YT videos of famous rest-less violinists was that most of them seemed to be using a combination of the thumb AND the base of the index finger to support the violin, rather than ONLY the thumb

...

However, I found this old video of Yehudi Menuhin demonstrating how to hold a glass violin (!!!) without a shoulder rest, and in it he is definitely only using the thumb by itself ...

 

If you don't have a shoulder rest you have to negotiate the downshift with a bit of help from chin and / or left forefinger. I don't think the method is set in stone. Hadelich uses first finger a little for this purpose though he is quick at reestablishig a gap between forefinger and neck once he is in position. You can see this in first 10 seconds of this video, at reduced playback speed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPQ5E4o9Ewk

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wow that's very interesting, thanks for that! I wasn't aware that the 1st finger could be used to help the downward shifts, I only knew of the chin.

Here's something interesting, at 5:45 in the following video on posture, Hadelich says "These days I don't hold the violin very much with my left hand. Sometimes I sustain it a little bit, but most of it happens here" (while gesturing to the collarbone and chin).

So because he said "These days..." I guess that he is saying he has changed his technique a bit over the years.

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6 hours ago, FromBassToViola said:

wow that's very interesting, thanks for that! I wasn't aware that the 1st finger could be used to help the downward shifts, I only knew of the chin.

Here's something interesting, at 5:45 in the following video on posture, Hadelich says "These days I don't hold the violin very much with my left hand. Sometimes I sustain it a little bit, but most of it happens here" (while gesturing to the collarbone and chin).

So because he said "These days..." I guess that he is saying he has changed his technique a bit over the years.

Ah I sought out his posture video, and liked it. He always has his famous Del Gesu in his hand in these videos (unless he has a copy of it!). The skinny scroll is the giveaway.

It is nice (though perhaps not for the copyright holders) to see a couple of people have put "The art of the Violin" video on Youtube (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZTtTCR-Smk). It has a lot of footage of the earlier generation of players. Every hand is different.

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if the thumb is abnormally low (toward the nut), it can cause the pinky to be straight, which causes trigger finger and makes you have surgery in an embarrassing attempt to fix a violin technique problem.  best case, gripping the neck and cramps in the ball of the thumb which is as bad as trigger finger, so not really best case i guess.  better than to try to justify bad thumb position is to fix it.

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I disagree that the thumb must be under the neck to play without a shoulder rest. Hadelich seems to have a pretty complete hold of the instrument between his jaw and his shoulder, where he has a pad inside his shirt. So he can bring his whole hand around the neck and above the strings and play with a thumb under the neck without any contact at the base knuckle of the 1st finger. Milstein is a different case in my opinion, as he held the violin entirely in the hand and it is apparent in the photo that he primarily has contact at the base knuckle and not just the thumb. I've been playing this way for years and holding it with just the thumb is honestly terribly uncomfortable and even painful, the way Menuhin shows. I think Milstein's way is a much more natural way to play, the only time the thumb needs to go under is when you shift in the higher positions or prepare to shift there, in my opinion.

On 4/7/2022 at 3:21 PM, John_London said:

Hadelich because he plays w/o shoulder rest so must support the instrument with the left hand. W/o shoulder rest if the thumb is not under the neck the fiddle falls, unless you scrunch the chin down?

Hence many older gen. players who played restless put the thumb under the neck. Milstein has a nice hand position. One of the best of the older gen was Oscar Shumsky, as good as many of the more famous ones: I think the thumb is under the neck in the image

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1 hour ago, thirteenthsteph said:

I disagree that the thumb must be under the neck to play without a shoulder rest. Hadelich seems to have a pretty complete hold of the instrument between his jaw and his shoulder, where he has a pad inside his shirt. So he can bring his whole hand around the neck and above the strings and play with a thumb under the neck without any contact at the base knuckle of the 1st finger. Milstein is a different case in my opinion, as he held the violin entirely in the hand and it is apparent in the photo that he primarily has contact at the base knuckle and not just the thumb. I've been playing this way for years and holding it with just the thumb is honestly terribly uncomfortable and even painful, the way Menuhin shows. I think Milstein's way is a much more natural way to play, the only time the thumb needs to go under is when you shift in the higher positions or prepare to shift there, in my opinion.

Well if it works, why not. I recall from younger days, some teachers manipulate the student's hand into the "correct position" and insist on a "window". For me using base knuckle is a bit of a problem for vibrato, esp. on the first finger, and a problem for good hand formation with fingers falling in line with the string. But then my left arm and wrist rotation is quite limited.

The pad under the jacket idea is not really for me either. It is something different again. A player with short-ish neck as Stern had, and as Hadelich appears to have, can support the violin with the chin using a concealed pad, almost like a mini shoulder-rest, and with luck not get a stiff shoulder, or the kind of stiff neck I associate with a rigid shoulder rest.

The risk of supporting the violin with the thumb is that the thumb / cup of the hand gets stiff. That also kills vibrato and causes other problems. It is such a conundrum that if I think about it too much I cannot play at all. But it is interesting looking at great players.

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5 minutes ago, John_London said:

Well if it works, why not. I recall from younger days, some teachers manipulate the student's hand into the "correct position" and insist on a "window". For me using base knuckle is a bit of a problem for vibrato, esp. on the first finger, and a problem for good hand formation with fingers falling in line with the string. But then my left arm and wrist rotation is quite limited.

The pad under the jacket idea is not really for me either. It is something different again. A player with short-ish neck as Stern had, and as Hadelich appears to have, can support the violin with the chin using a concealed pad, almost like a mini shoulder-rest, and with luck not get a stiff shoulder, or the kind of stiff neck I associate with a rigid shoulder rest.

The risk of supporting the violin with the thumb is that the thumb / cup of the hand gets stiff. That also kills vibrato and causes other problems. It is such a conundrum that if I think about it too much I cannot play at all. But it is interesting looking at great players.

I find when one relaxes and also does not press hard, vibrating without losing contact at the base knuckle is possible and easy. In fact, in my experience, losing that contact ruins the hand frame, intonation and leads to general tension and stiffness. After all that area of the hand has enough flesh to move back and forth enough to vibrate without the need to slide. But I cannot say as to how well it works with different hand/arm anatomies as you say.

And I agree about the pad, every time I have tried something like that I always started using my shoulder more in order to secure the instrument which always led to stiffness and pain. I'd rather use a shoulder rest if it fits well in that case. For now I just use a small piece of leather I've cut a whole into to pass the endpin through and locked the other side under the feet of the chinrest, so it's always there and helping with the instrument sliding on my clothes.

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Just now, thirteenthsteph said:

I find when one relaxes and also does not press hard, vibrating without losing contact at the base knuckle is possible and easy.

I will try tomorrow. I can imagine it being difficult with thirds and octaves. But it is not necessarily either / or.

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Just now, John_London said:

I will try tomorrow. I can imagine it being difficult with thirds and octaves. But it is not necessarily either / or.

You mean vibrating thirds and octaves? Yes that is true, I suppose, but I cannot say my hand is entirely relaxed either. I can imagine that when the fingers are loose in the joint closer to the pad then it should work just the same.

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On 4/7/2022 at 5:17 AM, FromBassToViola said:

However, having said that....I've finally found a genuine, thumb-under violinist!!!! His name is Filip Pogady, and if you look at his video from about 6:00 to 6:45, there is no mistaking, he really does play that way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsKju_W1K0U&t=190s

Looking at Pagody, it seems that he too has a pretty total grip of the instrument with his head and his padded shoulder. You can see how he holds it straight up while using no hands. While he plays,  his jaw is basically clamping on the chinrest, and even though he says 'look how I can move the instrument back and forth to facilitate playing', he basically moves his whole body like one would when using a shoulder rest. He has a similar set up to Hadelich, in that the violin is secure, technically shoulder-rest-less but not really, and his hand supports the violin minimally or not at all. Otherwise, were the thumb to support the whole instrument in this position, he'd be in pain, not to mention that it would not feel very secure, whereas when the thumb is opposite the fingers and behind the neck if the violin falls it simply falls into the gap between index and thumb.

Of course all this might not be to your interest, as you specifically asked about the thumb only and not whether they truly hold the instrument in the hand or not.

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12 hours ago, thirteenthsteph said:

You mean vibrating thirds and octaves? Yes that is true, I suppose, but I cannot say my hand is entirely relaxed either. I can imagine that when the fingers are loose in the joint closer to the pad then it should work just the same.

Base joint in contact with neck is not working for me, unless I misunderstood. Hard to capture in a photo but I tried. Which of 2 or 3 did you mean?

Image below shows usual E string position,  there is a small window between hand and neck, fingers fall on pads (what I want),  hand formation OK:

IMG_0067.jpg.f0cb9bd3d822d1248bb8de6a05a61157.jpg

 

Image below shows hand touching neck, fingers fall on E-string in the usual way but the neck nestles in the join at the base of first finger, which limits hand movement for vibrato etc.:

IMG_0068.jpg.705bee470aa44eadb3a72242f072f7b7.jpg

Image below shows hand touches neck on protrusion below base joint. Fingers fall on tips, vibrato is a little different but works, hand position not as good for intonation:

IMG_0069.jpg.97e7f016a5a7934633fc0a3f628a4d8e.jpg

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5 minutes ago, thirteenthsteph said:

No none of these. I meant base knuckle of the index finger, not the thumb.

I think the photos are not showing it well. The thumb did not move. On image 2 the hand touches the neck where the yellow line is. On image 3 it touches the neck where the black line is in the image below, and that changes the hand formation so fingers fall on the tips.

IMG_0071.jpg.45691a0b159ef9b2cf9a05b916fc211f.jpg

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